Let’s fest it up with Hanasaku Iroha!
An interesting thing about Hanasaku Iroha is that it exemplifies the ‘standard slice of life’ series to the letter. Three girls, same school, same workplace, yukatas, a school festival, a town festival, and a love triangle. Yeah, I could see where this was going after about three episodes. But you know what? I still really enjoyed it. There’s something about Hanairo that is just extremely appealing. The character designs are a bit uninspired and their personalities are pretty generic, but there’s something about the atmosphere and setting that really sets the tone of the whole series and makes it work, somehow.
When Matsumae Ohana‘s mother runs away with her boyfriend, Ohana finds herself being shipped off to stay with her grandmother at Kissuiso, a hot springs inn far from her home city of Tokyo. Although she is among relatives, Ohana quickly discovers that her grandmother, the manager, has no intentions of coddling the child and she is quickly put to work as a waitress in order to earn her keep. The other employees at the inn also seem a bit stern and mostly unwilling to open up to young Ohana, but she is able to kindle a small friendship with a shy co-worker, Nako. Wanting to shine for herself and the people around her, Ohana decides to work hard and “fest it up.”
What unfolds over the 26 episodes is just what you’d expect out of a slice-of-life series. The hustle and bustle of the inn’s daily activities allows for ample focus on the characters and their relationships as they learn the value of friendship and camaraderie. The three main characters, Ohana, Nako and Minko are all girls that attend the same highschool and work at the Kissuiso, and their personalities all complement each other very well. There is a wonderful love-hate relationship between Ohana and Minko that is emphasized by their different responsibilities (Ohana is a waitress while Minko works in the kitchen) and characterized by childish name-calling on Minko‘s part (she literally calls Ohana a balut as a name — Filipinos should know what this one is). The relationship between the two and Nako is tamer, and she serves as the middleman between Ohana and Minko when things get a bit heated. When it comes down to it, though, the three really do show a very realistic and heartwarming (if typical) kinship between main characters.
The supporting cast is just as varied and interesting, especially Ohana’s grandmother, the Manager of Kissuiso. Strict, wise, and strong, she is a driving force for the three girls to grow and serves as a spectacular ‘wall’ that provides conflict to the otherwise trivial issues of the typical slice-of-life series. While the staff may struggle with dealing with customers in a timely fashion, the Manager always has a trick up her sleeve to make the simplest of tasks more varied and complicated, which keeps the content from stagnating.
The art is also quite nice, though the style reminds me a bit of Book Girl, especially Nako with her braided pigtails. Ohana is also immeasurably adorable; her genki girl attitude is interesting and infectious, as even the supporting cast will mention within the anime itself.
The only weak part about the series is the romance. I expected a bit more out of a slice-of-life. When you have no ‘true’ antagonist, the romance element is a very useful tool for inciting conflict. The series manages to successfully portray the tensions between the girls, but by that time the decisions seemed to have been well-established and unnecessary. It does leave a few things open for future works, should they ever come around.
Still, there really is something about this series. Something intangible. It’s not the best series around, it might not even be the best slice-of-life this season, but it is just irrevocably charming.
Character Ranking – Hanasaku Iroha
- Matsumae Ohana
- Wakura Yuina
- Tsurugi Minko
- Matsumae Satsuki
- Shijima Sui
- Oshimizu Nako